How to plan a trip to Thailand? If it is your first time visiting the land of smiles, this is inevitably the number one question on your lips. It can be a daunting prospect preparing for a backpacking trip to any new country; however, you needn’t worry. Thailand is one of the easiest countries in Asia to travel.
The beating heart of the South East Asia backpacking scene, Thailand is a dream destination fit for everybody’s bucket list. Boasting pristine beaches and awe-inspiring temples; to jungle adventures and wild nightlife; you can expect the perfect combination of culture, adventure, and fun. Basically, no matter your interests, you’re in for a hella of a good time!
Although, if it’s your first time visiting Thailand, there is some key information that you will want to know ahead of travel. Not only will this guide help to keep you safe, but it will also ensure you make the most of your experience.
In this guide, we advise how to plan a backpacking trip to Thailand. Including the top places to see, things to do avoid, all of our top travel tips, and more. So let’s get straight to it.
How to Plan a Trip to Thailand
*Don’t leave home without any backpacker essentials with our free printable packing list.
Planning a Trip to Thailand – General
The Best Time to Visit Thailand
Thailand boasts a tropical climate all year round; however, the best time to visit will depend on what you are looking to do. Those who are looking to spend their days soaking up the sun should avoid the monsoon season. However, if you don’t mind the occasional rain shower this can also be the quietest, and cheapest, time to visit.
It’s also worth noting that the seasons vary in the North and South of the country. Below is a brief idea of what conditions you can expect when visiting Thailand; however, we recommend this article for a month by month breakdown.
Cool/High Season: November – February – Great weather but the busiest and most expensive time to visit.
Hot Season: March-May – The build-up to monsoon can become extremely hot and unpleasant.
Monsoon Season: June – October – The wettest months of the year.
In our opinion, the months of March and October are the best time to visit Thailand. You can avoid the high season, but at the same time, enjoy some good weather.
Thailand Culture and Religion
There are many interesting things to know about Thai culture and religion. But for the purpose of this blog, I will cover the subject only briefly, so you have an idea of what to expect.
The predominant religion in Thailand is Buddhism, with 95% of the population identifying as such. Across the country, you will find grandeur temples and shrines, which never fail to impress.
While the culture of the Thai people appears very relaxed and laidback; you can easily offend if you do not respect their traditions and rules. Small things such as addressing a person in the right manner, and removing your shoes before entering somebody’s home, are expected even as a foreigner.
Despite having a wild reputation, you can still experience the raw Thai culture in most parts of the country. That said, the North of Thailand is far more conservative than the South. Here you can enjoy more cultural experiences, whereas the South is far more tourist orientated.
As always, we insist on acting respectfully at all times when backpacking Thailand. Remember you are in somebody else’s home. Pay attention to the rules, have respect for local traditions, and act in such a way that leaves a good impression.
Thai is the national language of Thailand, and while many people speak English, it is always beneficial to learn some key phrases in the local language. Not only will you gain respect from the locals, but it will also enhance your travel experience. Here are some key Thai phrases to help get you started:
Hello – Sawatdii ka (female) / kap (male)
How are you? – Sabaaidii mai ka (female) / kap (male)?
I’m fine – Sabaaidii
Thank you – Khop kun ka (female) / kap (male)
Water – Naam
Large Beer – Yai Bia
Vegetarian food – A-harn mang-sow-ee-rat
Delicious – A-roy
Bathroom – hong-num
How much? – nee gee baht?
Too expensive – feng-mak-pie
1 – Nung
2 – Song
3 – Sam
Festivals in Thailand
You may wish to coincide your trip with one of the many joyous festivals that occur throughout the calendar year. Here are some of the favourites:
Yi Peng Lantern Festival: Known as the ‘festival of lights’ Yi Peng Lantern Festival bears huge significance in Thai culture. Each year in the cultural city of Chiang Mai, thousands of tourists and locals alike, gather to release Chinese paper lanterns into the sky. This magical event symbolises letting go of misfortunes from the previous year.
Songkran Water Festival: Another significant festival in the Thai calendar is the extraordinary Songkran Festival. Held across three days every April, the event symbolises Thai New Year. The ritual of the ceremony involves water gun fights and throwing buckets of water over people. It is highly recommended not to leave your hotel with any electricals – unless you have one of these handy waterproof bags of course.
Full Moon Party: Not exactly a festival per se; however, the iconic Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is an experience that should be had by all. These parties are every bit as debaucherous as they sound. Embrace the neon paint, grab yourself a strong bucket, and party on until dawn!
What to Eat in Thailand
Thai food is, without a doubt, our favourite cuisine in all of Asia. With a variety of dishes incorporating the tantalising flavours, it’s impossible to get bored. Here are some of our favourites.
Pad Thai – The national noodle dish of Thailand, is likely to be served slightly different everywhere you go, but you can almost always guarantee it’s going to be good. If you’re on a budget, you can pick up Pad Thai for as little as 30 baht in some places!
Pad Med Mamaung – A personal favourite of ours, this delightful dish contains your choice of meat or vegetables stir-fried among herbs, spices, and cashew nuts!
Thai Curries – Thai curries are the most flavoursome of all outside of India! Our favourites are the Massaman and Penang; however, you should endeavour to give them all a try!
Som Tam – A simple yet delightful dish, we are hopelessly addicted to this raw papaya salad. Shredded and served alongside green beans, garlic, chilli, and lime juice, the result is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy.
Khanom Dok Jog – We found ourselves hooked to these deep-fried flower cookies on our last visit to Thailand. So simple, yet so delicious!
Mango Sticky Rice – To be honest, this dish isn’t one of our favourites. However, it’s a favourite among locals and tourists alike so you should probably give it a try.
7/11 Toasties – Shameful but true! We live for 7/11 toasties when travelling Thailand on a budget!
Planning a Trip to Thailand – Money, Visa, & Travel
The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht denoted as THB. At the time of writing 40 Baht is equal to £1.00/1.26$. See here for a full list of Asian Countries, capital, and currency.
Budget for Backpacking Thailand
Travelling Thailand is suitable for all budgets, and if you are sensible with your cash you can comfortably live on £20/25$ a day. Good hostels can be found for as little as £5/7$ and often include breakfast, while budget private rooms are available for £10-20/15-25$.
Food costs in Thailand can also be very cheap. Basic street food such as Pad Thai will set you back around 40-50 baht, while a meal at a mid-range restaurant will set you back between 120-200 baht. For fine dining, expect to pay between 300-500 baht for a meal.
Entry prices for attractions will heavily depend on your interests. Unfortunately, all things come with a price tag in Thailand, ranging from $3 to access a waterfall, $8 for a Thai Massage and $80 to visit an elephant sanctuary. Choose your itinerary wisely so as not to max out your budget.
Alcohol in Thailand is accessibly cheap, so long as you stick to the local brands. Chang beer and Hong Thong whiskey are the popular choices among backpackers – both pack a punch!
Final budget tip – it is far cheaper to travel in Bangkok and the North of the country than it is in the South.
Thailand Visa Requirements
Thailand has a very laidback policy when it comes to tourist visas. Many nationalities including all European, United States, Australian and South African Citizens are granted visa-free entry into the country for a period of 30 days.
For more information regarding visa requirements for your country, please check with the Immigration Department of Thailand ahead of travel.
Travelling Around Thailand
By Bus – After covering most of Thailand on a budget, we found the easiest way to travel from place to place was by tourist bus. The cheapest way to book is via 12Go Asia; however, you can also organise through the hundreds of tour operators located across the country.
By Train – There is also a cross country rail network, although the prices tend to be more expensive and we have no personal experience using it.
By Air – If you are on a tight schedule and money isn’t too much of an issue, you can also travel via domestic flight to most areas of the country. We always use Skyscanner to ensure we are getting the best deals on flights.
Planning a Trip to Thailand – Best Places to Visit
The best places to visit in Thailand will highly depend on your interests; however, in this truly vast and diverse country, you can be sure there is something for everybody.
If you seeking a cultural experience, you should consider heading to Bangkok and head North. If adventure and nature is your thing, perhaps Khao Sok or Chiang Mai would be more suited. For quality beach time or world-class diving, you won’t want to miss the islands off the South Coast.
Any trip to Thailand, or South East Asia for that matter, will more than likely begin in the capital city of Bangkok. It can be quite a culture shock to arrive into the bustling metropolis for the very first time; although, there is something quite addictive about the energy there. If it’s your first time visiting Thailand, you may wish to consider exploring Bangkok with a local tour guide!
Top things to do in the city include a visit to the Grand Palace, taking some cool photos at the Aeroplane Graveyard, delighting in the local cuisine at Asiatique night market, and reenacting a scene from the Hangover on Khao San Road! Check out That Bangkok Life for a full low down on what to do in the city. Or, if you’re travelling with little ones, the best things to do in Bangkok with kids.
Located North of the country, Chiang Mai is the cultural hub of Thailand and one of our favourite cities in Southeast Asia! Less intense than her big brother Bangkok, with a hipster cafe culture to boot, the city is a popular base among the digital nomad crowd.
Chiang Mai is renowned for the street food markets, and therefore eating is definitely at the top of the list of things to do here. Furthermore, you can find beautiful temples, elephant sanctuaries, some of the best yoga retreats in Thailand, and the wild Flight of the Gibbon!
If you find yourself in Northern Thailand, you have to check out the charming town of Pai. The laidback hippie culture had us hooked, and to this day remains a highlight of our travels. It’s the perfect spot if you’re looking to go hiking in Thailand and to enjoy nature.
In all honesty, the best way to enjoy Pai is to embrace the sleepy pace of life and soak in the imperturbable tranquillity. Spend your days meandering the local markets, relaxing in hot springs, or admiring the breathtaking mountain views.
Sukhothai or Ayutthaya
If you are remotely interested in Thai history, we highly recommend visiting Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, or both! There isn’t much else to do in these rural towns other than exploring the ancient ruins of fallen kingdoms. But in our opinion, that’s a pretty cool way to spend the day!
Until recently, Khao Sok has not been on the radar of many tourists visiting Thailand. As a result, the area still feels somewhat undeveloped, and this idyllic spot is a strong contender for our favourite place in all of Thailand.
Boasting limestone cliffs, lush rainforest, and majestic lakes, Khao Sok is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature. Top activities here include jungle trekking, wildlife spotting, and days out on the lake.
Depending on who you speak to, the compelling island of Koh Phangan has two very different personalities. On one side, there are tales of all-night parties and drunk backpackers. While on the other, a spiritual enclave exists, where yoga, meditation, and art prevail.
We have been fortunate enough to experience both sides of the island, and it has to be said, Koh Phangan is a magical place. Our advice – spend a few days partying in yourself, then book yourself into a yoga retreat in the North to cleanse away your sins!
If you are looking to scuba dive in Thailand then Koh Tao is the place to do so. You can secure your scuba diving certification here cheaper than anywhere else in the world. This being said, you don’t need to take to the waters to enjoy what this beautiful island has to offer.
As well as captivating reef diving, Koh Tao boasts some of the best beaches in Thailand. Furthermore, you can find incredible viewpoints, delicious food, and laidback vibes.
Koh Phra Thong
For those seeking to go off the beaten path in Thailand, then Koh Phra Thong is the perfect place to do so. This island is unique in the sense that it is a Savannah island, therefore walking inland will have you feeling like you are somewhere in Africa!
What we loved most about Koh Phra Thong is the endless pristine beach that adorned the 66KM sq island. Sporting just a handful of resorts, it truly feels like a hidden piece of paradise.
Planning a Trip to Thailand – Travel Advice
Is Thailand Safe?
All things considered, Thailand is a safe country to visit. It is one of the most visited countries in Asia. And a solid tourist infrastructure is in place to help you feel secure.
Of course, that is not to say that backpacking Thailand poses no risks at all. Petty theft offences such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, and scams are not uncommon. And it pays to adopt extra care and vigilance when you are out enjoying the country.
Furthermore, you should consider risks such as rabies among stray dogs, weather extremities, and local laws. We recommend reading this article for more information on staying safe in Thailand.
What to Wear in Thailand
There are a few things to consider when planning what to pack for Thailand. Generally, Thailand is a hot and humid country, so you are going to want to pack plenty of cool attire. At the same time, bear in mind that it is a Buddhist country, and in many places, it will be respectful, if not required, that you are covered up.
For women, covering legs below the knee and shoulders is recommended. For men, it’s more relaxed; however, would avoid revealing tank or vest tops. This is especially important when visiting religious or sacred sites, otherwise, you will often be refused entry.
It pays to carry a sarong with you at all times, so you can quickly cover up if required.
You can expect to encounter rain at any time of year, and it often hits unexpectedly. It is therefore recommended you carry a lightweight rain jacket and waterproof cover for your bags at all times.
If you plan to visit Khao Sok and other areas of the rainforest, you will want some warmer clothes for cooler temperatures.
LGBT in Thailand
One of the things we loved most about Thailand is the vibrant and wild gay scene. Thailand has been a favourite among LGBT travellers for decades, with Bangkok being voted one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.
It was refreshing to have the freedom of being ‘out and proud’ in most places in Thailand. Especially prevalent in the capital of Bangkok, we found an influx of gay bars and nightclubs located around the country.
To learn more about LGBT in Thailand you can check out the full article here.
Vaccinations in Thailand
You should always consult with your healthcare practitioner at least 6-8 weeks ahead of travel, as the vaccinations required will be dependent on the individual. As a guide, here is a list of the recommended immunisations for Thailand.
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B (optional)
- Rabies (optional)
- Japanese Encephalitis (optional)
Internet in Thailand
WIFI is extremely reliable in the tourist areas of Thailand and can generally be found in all hostels, hotels, cafes, and restaurants. In the more rural areas, you should be prepared for there to be no internet at all.
If you rely on the internet for work or other means, it is worth purchasing a tourist sim card. We use AIS and experience reliable service throughout the country.
Planning a Trip to Thailand – Things to Avoid
Say ‘NO’ to Single-Use Plastic
It is no secret that single-use plastic is causing irreversible damage to our ecosystems. Akin to other countries in Asia, it is prolific when purchasing local goods in Thailand. There are, however, many ways you can avoid contributing to the problem.
For one, don’t buy single-use plastic water bottles if it can be avoided. Carry a reusable bottle and find a hotel or hostel that provide a refill station. Second of all, do not accept plastic bags when doing your shopping. Try to have a bag handy for your groceries at all times. And lastly, try to remember to ask for your drink without a straw.
*If you need a straw why not carry our eco-friendly, reusable, bamboo straws with you
Say ‘NO’ to Elephant Rides
Sadly, the influx of visitors to Thailand has resulted in a dark side amidst the tourism industry. To see an elephant is at the top of many peoples bucket list; however, as tourists, it is our responsibility to ensure we are not supporting any unethical companies.
It is important to note that under no circumstance is it ok to ride an elephant. The mahouts or guides at so-called sanctuaries will try to convince you otherwise. But whatever they say, it’s just not true. For an elephant to allow any human to ride them, it would take years of abuse and mistreatment.
If you wish to interact with the majestic gentle giants, it is important to research ethical sanctuaries who have the best interests of the animals. This article outlines some of the ethical animal sanctuaries in Thailand.
Say ‘NO’ to Tiger Selfies
For similar reasons as above, please do not support this unethical tourist attraction in Thailand. For a tiger to allow you close enough for a selfie, they would have to be heavily drugged and restrained.
Remember, there are many wildlife experiences that allow you to see animals in their natural habitat. This is by far, the most rewarding and ethical way to encounter wild animals!
What to Pack for Thailand
Unsure of what you might need to pack for your adventures in Thailand? Don’t worry, we have got you covered. Check out our backpacker essentials, for a packing list of items that we carry with us on every adventure.
Here are some items that we recommend taking to make your visit to the beaches & waterfalls more comfortable:
- Comfortable shoes for the hike down
- Water shoes to wear in the water – We Recommend: 2 in 1 Water/Hiking Shoes.
- Waterproof Bag to protect valuables – We Recommend: Waterproof Dry Bag-10L/20L/30L
- Bathing suit & towel for the obvious – We Recommend: Microfiber Travel Towel
Travel Responsibly in Thailand
As travellers, it should be a top priority to travel responsibly when planning a trip to Thailand. We already leave a substantial carbon footprint just by flying to our travel destinations, so that’s even more reason to make a positive impact when we get there.
There are many small steps you can take to becoming a responsible traveller, and we highly encourage you to educate yourself before travelling to Thailand. Here are some simple things you can do to minimise your footprint:
1. Do not drop rubbish: You would think this would go without saying; however, there are some questionable humans who think it’s ok to drop rubbish wherever they go. Please dispose of trash in the proper way.
2. Carry a Steripen or iodine tablets to sterilise water: This not only limits your usage of single-use plastic but also saves you money too!
3. Respect the local culture: Be courteous of the local culture and act in such a way that leaves a good impression. Learn a little of the local language (hello and thank you is the minimum), greet the locals in a polite manner, and respect dress codes & traditions
Well, that concludes our tips, tricks, and advice on planning a trip to Thailand; however, if you have any further questions we would be happy to help. Please leave them in the comment section below.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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